Cover Image: The Mermaid from Jeju

The Mermaid from Jeju

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Member Reviews

The review was provided via Booktube via Youtube.  Please see the link below to access the review.  https://youtu.be/nouBMqxk65w
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Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for the chance to read this book. This was a beautiful work of Korean historical fiction. And who doesn't love a story based on true events. Its a book about family. About struggle both just in general and of a country during war time. Its a story about grief and the human condition. Overall a beautiful and at times heartbreaking work that gives us a little bit of magic.
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I really tried to get into this novel. However, it just didn’t grip me. I found it be repetitive and slow moving. Still, I recommend this for anyone interested in Korean history and culture.
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The Mermaid from Jeju is a beautiful book of survival, family, and strength.  The story of Junja and those around her is a deeply moving story with rich characters who will draw you in and stay in your mind for a while.  Jeju is not a part of Korea that I had previously known much about, but I am fascinated now with its history and culture.  I am intrigued by stories from the post WWII period, and this one especially so, since it was a part of that history that I did not know much about.  

The first half of this book, presented from Junja's point of view, was easy to get pulled into.  It was well done and being able to follow her specifically through this part of her story made me feel very invested in her.  The second portion of the book switched perspectives a little abruptly to her husband, further in the future, and I do wish there was a little more of a gradual change.  This didn't last very long, though, as the story recentered itself on Junja, but allowed for a new perspective of her.  I ended up really liking the change and what it brought to her character for me.  The side characters were just as interesting, and there are a few of them that I still want to know more about.

Overall, The Mermaid from Jeju was a wonderful read and one that I would highly recommend to anyone who loves this time period, historical fiction in general, or really just loves a moving story.
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On the day his wife Junia dies, her husband decides to return to Korea, where he and his wife had vowed to never set foot again, to make peace with the past.
This event is the starting point for an extraordinary narrative about the Haenyeo culture, the women who dive to snatch food and whatever is needed for survival from the sea; the Japanese invasion; the Americans too terrified to understand that a different way of life had nothing to do with communism; and the resistance of the local people.
All the characters in this book are monumental, and it is really hard to let them go once you have finished reading.
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I had very high hopes for this novel, which may be influencing my somewhat "meh" feelings about it. I really enjoyed the first half, told from Junja's point of view in the 1940s, in the aftermath of WWII when the Japanese invaders have left and the Americans come and fill the power vacuum, using nationalist soldiers from the mainland to hunt "communist" rebels. Junja, a strong hanyeo, woman who deep dives in the ocean to provide sustenance for her family and community, is swept up in this "forgotten war" when her family and friends become involved in the rebellion. 

But halfway through the novel, it switches abruptly to a different voice - Junja's husband - and the narrative style also switches to go back and forth between the 2000s and the 1940s. I found this very disruptive. I think if only one of those switches had been made at that point - either the voice or the time - it would have worked better. Overall, though, I appreciated the focus on Jeju island, whose unique history is often left out of Korean historical fiction of this time period.
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Goh Junja is a deep sea diver, like her mother and grandmother. The Korean women are haenyeo and they dive for seaweed and abalone. Her mother sends Junja to the mountains to collect a pig, here she meets a boy called Yang Suwol and life in the mountains is very different to how she lives simply by the sea. 

When she returns home the next day her mother is dead, her grandmother tells her died in the sea and this isn’t true she was beaten. Junja younger siblings Jin and Gongjo go to live with their father and she stays behind with her grandmother. Junja feels her mother’s spirit is still with her and she sees her as a ghost. Korea is still getting over the Japanese invasion during WW II and the American army arrive and it’s a time of civil unrest. Suwol’s family’s compound in the mountains is bombed, people are killed and it’s a dangerous time to live in Korea. 

Junja escapes Korea, she moves to America, marries Dr Moon and has two daughters. When she passes away, Dr Moon returns to Korea to make peace with his past, find out what happened to Suwol and free Junja's spirit.

The Mermaid From Jeju is a magical tale, it’s made up of ghosts and spirits. Some of the story is set in real life, and to be honest I had trouble following the plot and it didn’t make whole lot of sense to me. Thanks to NetGalley for my copy, I don’t read magical realism and it could be why I struggled with the book and three stars from me.
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*received for free from netgalley for honest review* always love reading new WW2 books, even more so when they are as unique as this one! I can easily say this is a book i will have to own!
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I appreciate the publisher allowing me to read this book. I did not think I would like thus book but I loved it .highly recommend
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I didn't know anything about haenyeo (the mermaids of Jeju). I don't know why the changing viewpoint (near the beginning and then later) was so jarring, but I think this would have worked better as just Junja's story. The beginning seemed completely disconnected from the book until about 3/4 through. The last part was just too weird for me. It seemed like the author wrote two books and she really wanted them to go together.
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Charmingly brilliant while being historically significant. The work reinforces the disappoints fact that war interferes with the progress of a gentle fate.
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3.5/5 - I enjoyed learning about a time and place I knew very little about. There were strong women characters working to resist the controlling military bodies which I loved cheering for. However it got a little confusing when the storyline jumped to the future in America. I much preferred the young love, fleeing from unjust authorities in South Korea timeline. Overall still a good story. Elements of magical realism and the author also includes the crazy inspiration behind the novel’s origins.
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The Mermaid of Jeju centers around Goh Junja, a young woman living on the island of Jeju, working as the other women in her village as a strong haenyeo -- diving to the depths for abalone and other sea delicacies they trade for pork. Once she is old enough, she convinces her mother to let her make the trek up the mountain to trade with the family there; that is where she meets Yang Suwol, and her world shifts. The next day when she returns, she is just in time to see her mother die, and her world shifts again. At the same time, Korea is in political turmoil: Japan is forced out of their occupancy by US troops. Junja must learn to navigate the changing world around her.

I really enjoyed this book: it was very good, though not quite what I was expecting. The characters were well-developed and interesting. I especially liked Junja and her journey, even if she was a bit frustrating at times.

The story was told in third-person omniscient POV. Truth be told, it could sometimes be a little disconcerting, especially when listening to the audiobook. The author would intersperse the inner thoughts of different characters, often in the same scene. For example, there was a scene (~ch 5 or 6) where Junja and Suwol were picking ferns, and we get to hear their alternating thoughts from one sentence to the next; further, in the same scene, the reader is also privy to a random crow's thoughts (for no reason, really, except to physically back the reader up a pace, to observe the scene as an outsider?). I want to specify that it wasn't "bad* -- I really liked being privy to the thoughts of different characters -- but it was sometimes a little hard to follow. However, I would argue it was easier to follow in the ebook vs the audiobook. (This was no fault of the narrators -- Cindy Kay and Raymond J. Lee -- who I thought were both excellent!)

Also, at least for me, the second half of the book took a little while to get into. We dive into the narrative from Dr. Moon's POV, who, beyond the reader knowing is the husband of Junja, he is a stranger. Yet we are supposed to care about him. Is he Suwol, or is he someone else? The narration goes into the past and weaves back to the present, following Dr. Moon and his relationship with Junja, from when they meet to when they eventually settled in New York. I thought it worked pretty well overall, though I really like narration that weaves back and forth, from past to present, building up to a big reveal. Even though there wasn't necessarily a "big reveal" -- and I was left wanting more after Dr. Moon's trip to Korea (I won't spoil anything else) -- it was still a satisfying conclusion.

I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely look out for more books from this author in the future!

Thank you to NetGalley, Alcove Press for the eARC, and Dreamscape Media for the eAudiobook. All thoughts expressed are my own.
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Gripping and full of a world lost to time. The deep-divers of the Jeju island on the eve of the Korean civil war (and the USA fingers in it all). There's good history here intertwined with the more metaphysical way that life unfolds. Well written, well paced, and I found the back and forth technique effective.
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Post WWII Korea is a country trying to find its place in the world as American soldiers flood into th country. Goh Junha is a haenyo, a diver in a long tradition of women divers, who harvest abalone and other delicacies from the sea. When her mother dies, Goh Junha must also find a place for herself in this new world. Very well written and recommended reading.
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This novel "The Mermaid from Jeju" was an enjoyable read. I love reading about individuals from different areas of the world and their experiences prior to coming to the United States. This novel flashes between 1940's Jeju Korea and 2001 after immigration to the United States. The reader learns a bit about someone's life prior to coming to the US and what lead them to immigrate here. The characters were interesting as was the storyline.
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A lovely book focused on culture and how it defines us. I was very interested in the characters from start to finish and really enjoyed this book on audio. The reader will be delighted by this story.
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I had a feeling from the description and that beautiful cover that I would love this book and I'm so glad to report that I was right. A beautifully told story done with wonderful narration. Sumi Hahn weaves a magical tale filled with emotion. I couldn't ask for more.
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A beautifully written and unique book. The author's research into the island of Jeju and the haenyo women there has made for a compelling and authentic read that puts this war into a whole new light.
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What a beautiful (debut!) story. I'm always in search of historical fiction set outside of Europe and this hit the spot. An interesting premise and setting - the only downside to this book was that it ended.
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